During the recent campaign for the Upper House, a YouTube video emerged revealing the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s attitude toward the electorate. A woman attending a rally in Fukushima by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe carried a placard that asked the LDP leader his stance on the nuclear energy controversy. LDP security confronted her and said that the rally was “not a place for protest but a place to listen.” Recording the conversation secretly, she explained that she wasn’t protesting. She just wanted Abe to state his position, but they confiscated the placard anyway and asked for her name and address. According to media reports, though she gave them her home address, they sent the placard to her workplace. As of this writing, the video has been viewed more than 88,000 times.
One doesn’t need a hidden camera to show the cynicism of the LDP campaign approach. The party’s most potent weapon was voter apathy, meaning the fewer who voted the better its chances. The media guaranteed this outcome by reporting that the LDP would win in a landslide, so people who opposed the party but weren’t necessarily vehement about it concluded that voting was a waste of time, and they stayed home.
Given this set of suppositions, it’s difficult to claim that the LDP has a mandate. All they have is the power to pass any law they want without much trouble. In post-election surveys support rates for the Abe administration have been on average 10 points lower than they were before the election.
But there are other, more subtle signs that the people aren’t as enamored of the LDP as Abe would have you think. If low voter turnout can actually be interpreted as an anti-mandate, the victory of independent anti-nuclear activist Taro Yamamoto in the Tokyo electoral district proves that a candidate with a proactive stance has automatic appeal. Though the 666,684 votes Yamamoto received is well below the numbers LDP winners in the same district garnered, it’s an impressive showing for someone with no party backing or organization.
Some will say Yamamoto got by on his name, since he was once a popular actor, but that didn’t help him in last year’s Lower House election. After coming out publicly against nuclear energy following the Fukushima No. 1 power plant accident in March 2011, he was shunned by the show-business world and has received almost no acting offers since.
Single-issue candidates are often derided for having a narrow agenda, but if you listened to LDP campaign speeches you’d think they had no agenda at all except to continue with “Abenomics.” That woman in Fukushima could never have expected a response from Abe anyway, since no one in the LDP even mentioned nuclear energy, but what made Yamamoto’s campaign distinctive wasn’t so much his pet issue but rather his pointing out that there was no useful discourse on the subject.
In her July 24 column for Tokyo Shimbun, Minako Saito wrote about two YouTube videos of Tokyo campaign rallies that took place on the same day. One was recorded in Akihabara, where Abe was stumping for two LDP candidates. Saying nothing substantial, he only talked about “making a country we can be proud of.” The crowd waved Japanese flags and right-wing fanatics screamed “destroy Asahi Shimbun” and “break up NHK.” (NHK is left wing?) Saito found it dispiriting.
The other video was recorded at an “election festival” in Shibuya, where a large crowd listened to musician and Green Party candidate Yohei Miyake, who gave an eloquent speech about reclaiming politics from “bullies” who only see it as an antagonistic endeavor, and Yamamoto, who talks less about nuclear power than the media’s caving to “sponsors,” such as power companies. It’s the reason he had to leave show business after protesting nuclear energy, but it’s also why nuclear energy was a non-issue during the campaign.
Though major media covered the anti-nuclear movement when the Friday night rallies in front of the prime minister’s residence became too big to ignore, they settled back into a know-nothing position once the LDP regained power and said that it would restart all the reactors in due time. It wasn’t until the day after the election that the media reported extensive irradiated water leaks at the crippled Fukushima plant, though Tepco had known of the leaks earlier.
So far, the Akihabara video had attracted 11,000 views and the Shibuya video 185,000. Whatever else those numbers prove, they show a greater interest in Miyake/Yamamoto than in Abe, at least among people with Internet access, and that means more people came away with a sense of what the two men stood for. Saito is obviously impressed by Yamamoto, while conservative media such as the weekly magazines Bunshun and Shincho characterize him as being the pawn of ’60s left-wingers. But the video doesn’t lie. Yamamoto doesn’t talk about shutting down nuclear power. He talks about making an environment where information is shared fairly and widely. The mood of the all-ages crowd is the opposite of that in the Akihabara video. It is hopeful and lighthearted.
Yamamoto’s victory gave him instant media dispensation to say whatever he wanted, at least for a few days, and in every TV interview he explained how the media are beholden to commerce first. He told the scandal magazine Friday that citizens will “defeat television” with the democratic power of the Internet, but television was defeated a long time ago by its refusal to engage viewers on anything more than a superficial level. Broadcasters’ dull, unquestioning political coverage has spoiled the LDP, making it reckless and out of touch, which may explain those security goons’ vigilance in Fukushima.
Last June, Abe spoke at an LDP rally during the Tokyo assembly race and was interrupted by a group protesting the Trans-Pacific Partnership. He later complained about these rude, loud “radical leftists” on his Facebook page, until someone pointed out they were farmers and he removed the remark. In a real open campaign the LDP would have beaten itself.